Getting More Out of Adult Easy Readers

A couple of years back, I had the chance to read Richard Doyle's disaster novel Flood. One of the interesting things about this novel - I mean besides London burning and flooding at the same time - is that it is written in the present tense (or "historical present" as the fancy pants say):

The Cabinet Office Briefing Room swarms with officials. Messengers run in and out. Most people are in shirtsleeves and the phones ring constantly. Thick rubber power cables snake over the carpet. Army signallers have brought in radio sets and laid on extra phone capacity but they can't keep up with demand. Deputy Prime Minister, Venetia Maitland, sits at the head, with permanently open lines to the emergency services strategic control rooms - Police, Fire, Ambulance and Military - in front of her.

Thirty men and women are squeezed in around the main table, which is half buried under laptops and binders, directories, heaps of files. Down the centre runs an immense map of central London and the Thames estuary out as far as the Dartford Crossing. Two assistants are marking the surge's progress with coloured flags: blue for flooding; red for fire; black for an incident involving loss of life.

The blue flags extend all the way up-river as far as the Thames Barrier, indicated by a broad band of yellow. North and south of it, the flood is shown engulfing Woolwich and the City Airport. Now Mary Lucas watches as an assistant leans over to plant a blue marker at Canning Town on the western end of the Royal Docks.

There are other markers indicating evacuation centres, troop concentrations, receiving hospitals and emergency control centres.

Most ominous of all, though, is the line of red flags advancing westwards along the river towards Woolwich that marks the vanguard of the burning oil slicks.

I'm sure it's not the first present-tense novel I've read, although I can't think of any others right now. Reading it didn't give my any special difficulty, and I rather enjoyed the sense of things unfolding in real time. I mean, I know they aren't, not really. But it felt like that - as if the author knew no more about what was going to happen next than I did.

I was entirely excited to have found another Doyle disaster novel called Volcano, and was disappointed to learn it was narrated in a conventional, past-tense form. (Now I'm only part way excited about it.)

I'm thinking about this right now because, sorting through some resources, I came across some re-writing I had done of commercial resources.

I think I've already mentioned my fondness for the adult easy-readers from out west (Grass Roots Press) and Australia (PRACE Pageturners). A curiosity of these books is that the Grass Roots texts were written in the present tense, while the Pageturners are written in the past. So, for example, we read, "Jack put some flowers in the garden. 'Good!' he said." in The Duck. But, we read, "He has a lunch. He has a new hat." in The Hike.

What this opened up, for me, was the possibility of re-writing each book in a different tense. E.g., "Jack puts some flowers in the garden. 'Good!' he says." Or, "He had a lunch. He had a new hat."

I must say, I don't know if there is any immediate advantage to this, other than extending the reading life of a given plot. But I suspect it may force readers to pay closer attention to the words - something important for new readers who make print-based errors because they over-rely on prior knowledge or context / meaning based strategies. (I'm, loosely, using language from Pat Campbell here - for more, see Teaching Reading to Adults: A Balanced Approach.)

More important, for me, is the fact that once I have the text typed into my PC, it's there to be used in many other ways. I can add words, or lengthen sentences using some conjunctions. I can create cloze-type exercises or ask learners to put in the punctuation or create 'choose the word' stuff like this:

He has a lunch. He has a ( knew / new ) hat. He has ( new / knew ) boots. "Here I go," says Bob.

Bob comes ( to / too ) a big hill. "Up I go," says Bob.

You get the idea.

I'm not going to share any of these with you, because I'm choosing (in this rare instance) to respect the copyright holders. And, anyway, this really is something you need to do for yourself if you want to adapt it to your own learners.

And, like I said, I don't know if it does any good. But, it really can't do much harm. Not like, say, a burning oil slick coming ashore on a rising tide.


Anne Dunn said...

You might find some of the free downloads on the PRACE site useful. We put up a variety of worksheets to give people ideas on how they can use the books. The ideas are, of course, transferable.

For instance from The Duck:
3. Story building -> download (20k)

This story is about Jack. Change the following sentences to make them about a woman called Sophie. Change Jack to Sophie and ‘he’ to ‘she.’

Jack put some flowers in the garden. "Good!" he said.
Soon the rain came. "Good!" he said.

Soon the snails came. "That's no good," he said.
The snails ate the flowers. Jack was upset.

Wendell said...

Thks for the reminder, Anne. :)

I've been using your worksheets for awhile now, and, yes, transferring to other books.

But it may be that not everyone knows about them yet.